Riding A Modified KTM 450 SX-F Factory Edition at Perris Raceway
Flat track racing is on the cusp of a renaissance. Born from humble beginnings in the 1920s, flat track racing is arguably the single most significant contribution that the United States has bestowed upon motorcycling, let alone two-wheeled competition. There is nothing more definitively American than flat track racing in the moto world.There has always been something down-home about it all or, rather, the idea that anyone with opposable thumbs, some fire in the belly, a steel-shoe, and enough mechanical know-how to keep any old clunker running long enough to race could try their hand at sliding around a dirt oval.
It’s an image that flat track has thrived on, and one representative of American culture—and it isn’t too far from reality. After all, it’s one of the few motorsport cultures that actively encourages the crowd to participate in ‘run what you brung’ exhibition races between main events.Since its conception, the sport has moved beyond the hastily constructed dirt tracks spotted across the Midwest and country-fair oval tracks—its influence is seen in virtually every form of motorcycle racing. MotoGP legends such as Kenny Roberts, Wayne Rainey, Kevin Schwantz, Freddie Spencer, Eddie Lawson, and Nicky Hayden, all spent their fair share of time with a limp that only a steel-shoe can provide before bringing flat track techniques to the world stage, cementing its importance in riding performance motorcycles.KTM is a brand driven almost exclusively by racing. With the motto of Ready To Race, it might surprise some to know that this year will mark the first time that the Austrian brand has led a full-factory supported American Flat Track (AFT) effort.For the 2019 American Flat Track season, Red Bull KTM Factory Racing will be supporting reigning AFT Singles Champion Dan Bromley and Singles veteran Shayna Texter, who happens to have the most victories in the class—ever.Bromley and Texter have impressive racing resumes that manage to match their enthusiasm and energy for the sport, even when milling around the paddock of historic Perris Raceway with moto-journalists, where the team made its official announcement.Bromley is a two-time AMA National Champion and has been participating in AFT competition since 2012. In 2018, he led what can only be described as a storybook season with the support of KTM. Dan lived out his racing dreams in a bike-filled van, traveling from track to track out of Warrington, Penn. as a privateer. Bromley took the 2018 AFT Singles title two races before the close the season.Moving to a factory team after is a massive step for any rider, but one that won’t be entirely unfamiliar to Bromley, as he explains his feelings regarding the upcoming season: “I’m very confident. Last year, I was on a similar bike with similar parts that KTM was able to help me out with towards the end of the year. Right now, I have a lot of confidence, and I was able to be there and be consistent. I think that helped me out with my position in the championship. This year, I hope to be consistent and be a top five rider in every race. You know, you don’t win championships by winning a race, but you can lose it by not being in the top five. My goal this year is to be top five at every event.”Texter has been a staple name in AFT and force to be reckoned with ever since her professional racing career began in 2008. Since then, she’s racked up a record 15 AFT victories in four classes—more than any rider to date.Last year the five-foot, 95-pound rider took home three AFT Singles wins along with eight podium appearances, resulting in third overall. In 2011, riding in the FT Pro class, Texter broke new ground by becoming the first female rider to win an AFT National Main Event.As if that isn’t enough, the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing Team is being managed by two-time Pikes Peak International Hill Climb champion and former AMA Superbike racer Chris Fillmore, effectively rounding out this ringer of a team.I chatted with Fillmore about the goals for the 2019 season, “Our main goal is to learn, to try to learn the sport and series,” he said. “I think, naturally, if we do a good job and we learn along the way, that we’ll do well. We already have a championship-winning program with Dan and KTM. Now, we all have to try to work together to continue to pick up from his success last year.”The Austrian brand felt that the iron was now hot enough to strike. Interest in the sport had in the 2000s, but it’s tough to discount its reinvigoration with the leadership at American Flat Track. “I think there’s no doubt that there’s a bit of a resurgence in the sport now,” Fillmore said. “If you see the marketing data from them, you see the growth going up, as far as attendance, viewership, manufacturer and involved. For us, that’s an interesting avenue for us because we prove our product through racing.”Usually, this is where the story would end. Press junkets for team announcements come in a variety of forms – some are simple press releases with photos of riders awkwardly smiling in full regalia, sometimes we’re able to see it be assembled and can pester pro riders with questions in person. No, KTM wanted us to get a taste of flat track first hand, which was great and perfectly safe, as I’ve never touched a proper flat track bike.With little flat track experience under my belt other than Rich Oliver’s Mystery School, I saddled up on a modified 2019 KTM 450 SX-F Factory Edition motocross machine that wasn’t too far off from what Shayna and Dan will be campaigning on this year. We had many, but not all, of the flat track fixings. Unfortunately, Luckily, we didn’t ride the completely uncorked, fire-breathing pro bikes.Our machines had lowered suspension, 19-inch wheels with broader rims, fat Dunlop DT3 flat track tires, an Akrapovič slip-on muffler, and, for the most authentic flat track experience, no front brake.Before setting off, I thought it would be best to get a refresher on my flat track techniques from someone that knows how to win races. “Alright, so you’ll need one cheek off to the inside with your, sit upright and towards the middle of the seat with your leg out while focusing on opening your hips,” Texter told me. “You’ll want to keep your outside elbow nice and high. Most importantly, keep focused and always look through the turn.”Not all that information isn’t alien, but much of it is a far cry from what I’m used to, especially as someone that spends most of his time on asphalt. With her sage advice in hand, I set off around for some laps of aboard the KTM-modified MX bike.The approach to a flat track turn works thusly: Approach wide and break traction with the rear brake to pitch the back end out, slowing you while simultaneously changing your direction. You’ll then transition from the brake to the throttle to continue the slide and gracefully exit, roosting your adoring fans that will mysteriously materialize after witness such motorcycling prowess as you drive down the straightaway to victory. That is the expectation, but our expectations are typically enormously lofty at worst.Shockingly, flat track is inviting. Once I had taken to getting my elbow up and half my bum off the wrong side of the bike, what was immediately apparent was the sheer amount of feedback felt through the SX-F’s chassis. Grip is a fleeting, yet readily discernible thing on a flat track bike; it’s in a state of constant flux, but luckily, it is detectable.The front will shimmy around and hook up, while the rear wheel’s grip is dictated by how smooth you are on the throttle. Too much gas and you’re just going to step it out, perhaps sending yourself headlong into the ER. Too little, and nothing happens. Flat track is a redneck ballet of sorts, forcing the rider to be precise and sensible while completing a task that is anything but.Even with a comparatively soft suspension setup, when stacked up against that of a street bike, the modified SX-F is a stable and extremely stout machine. If my inputs were too aggressive, the motorcycle would immediately respond in kind. However, if I was smooth with everything, things tended to work out.Thanks to the progressive nature of the 450cc single’s powerband, I was able to wind on the throttle confidently, without getting huge hits of unexpected muscle. On corner entry, the engine braking was just enough to help break the traction of the rear end and help slow me, without tossing me into the bars and making them upset the whole affair.I wish I could tell you that Texter’s rapid-fire flat track refresher course set me on a path to success where I’d be awaiting a call from Fillmore if they ever needed a fill-in rider. The photos are representative of the fact that this isn’t the case and it takes a decent flat track rider to do this bike any justice.However, her words kept me out of the dirt, and that’s about all KTM’s mechanics or I can ask. Even then, all these sensations seem scalable and make me appreciate the absolute blazing place that Bromley and Texter are capable of producing.I’ve always enjoyed watching flat track, which led me to Rich Oliver’s Mystery School—still one of the most fun things I’ve ever done on a motorcycle. This experience on the KTM 450 SX-F Factory Edition flat tracker, as short as it was, has me craving for more time out on the dirt oval.Photography byCole KirkpatrickRiding StyleHelmet: Shoei VFX-Evo
This week, Senior Editor Nic de Sena rides the all new Ducati Monster. Big changes have been made by Ducati–has the company ruined the considerable heritage of the iconic Monster–or are the changes worth it? In the second part of the show, we chat with Nick Ienatsch, Founder and Head Instructor at the Yamaha Champions Riding School. He says: “We aim to change your riding life by introducing you to Champions Habits: The techniques, approaches, skills, and the mindsets of the best riders in the world. These Champions Habits are the foundation of safety and consistency to whatever speed you ride, in any venue on any bike. Street riders, this is just as much for you as track riders. The best way to make safe riders is to make good riders.“ We hope you enjoy this episode!